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Lamu Service Week Brings Justice Closer to Marginalized Kenyans 

Lamu, Kenya - 22 March 2019 : The people of Lamu County on Kenya's coast have this week benefitted from a justice service week featuring close cooperation between 15 criminal justice agencies, non-governmental organizations and development partners.

Led by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), Lamu Service Week featured intensive legal support and information to clear the backlog of criminal cases and improve citizens' access to, and understanding of, criminal justice services.

Among the partners, the service week was supported by the European Union, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Development Programme through the EUR 34.15 million (KES 4.2 billion) Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD).

Despite encompassing 130 kms of coastline and 65 islands, Lamu County has just two courts and people often travel long distances by boat from outer islands to access justice services.

At community dialogues across the county attended by thousands of people, including the official launch on Monday, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Noordin Haji, invited citizens to come forward without fear and share their experiences with the justice system.

"We're here to localize solutions so you have to guide us and we will follow. We want to learn more about the issues that threaten you, whether it's drugs, corruption or terrorism. We're here to say the ODPP office is open as part of a holistic government response by criminal justice and law enforcement agencies," Mr Haji said at the service week launch in Mkunguni Square.

With additional magistrates, prosecutors and officers from the Witness Protection Agency and Probation and Aftercare Service arriving in Lamu to reinforce local teams, more than 55 cases were heard at Lamu Law Courts, including at high court sessions.

Members of the public took advantage of free legal advice and information at an information tent pitched outside the courts while remandees and prisoners sought assistance from officers and legal aid advisers at a new Justice Centre set up inside Hindi prison.

Under the service week theme 'All for Justice: Closing the Gap', a national Diversion Policy and Plea Bargaining Guidelines were tested for the first time. On day two alone, ODPP finalized three plea bargain agreements.

To fix Kenya's court case backlog crisis, PLEAD partners want to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the backlog of criminal cases by December 2022.

"We got behind Lamu Service Week to improve access to justice for remandees and other citizens and help address the root causes of poverty, exclusion and vulnerability. We've supported the participation of five justice institutions and technical assistance from UNODC and, as one legacy, we were pleased to donate two laptops for use by prosecutors in Lamu County to overcome equipment shortages," the Head of Macro-economics and Governance at the Delegation of the European Union to Kenya, Vincent De Boer, said.

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The distance to courts in Lamu County and expense of the journey can make it difficult for witnesses to appear in court, leading to frequent adjournments.

Speaking in Lamu, the Head of UNODC's Criminal Justice Programme in Eastern Africa, Charity Kagwi-Ndungu, said the participation of the Witness Protection Agency at the service week was significant as it enabled witnesses and other community members to better understand the protection available.

"The Service Week in Lamu has brought justice closer to the people and shown the power of collaboration between justice agencies and their many partners. Moreover, we welcome the sign of commitment by leaders in the justice sector by spending time in Lamu this week, including on outer islands," Ms Charity Kagwi-Ndungu said.

The European Union and UNODC also supported a two-day training last week for the Lamu Court Users Committee in preparation for the service week, which included sensitization on diversion and plea bargaining to help these measures become more widely understood and embraced.

Another issue in the spotlight this week was overcrowding in Kenya's prisons due to limited use of bail, bond and non-custodial sentences.

The Kiswahili information disseminated included new materials from the Bail and Bond Implementation Committee explaining the concepts of bail and bond and citizen's rights, such as the right to not be remanded in custody for a minor offence punishable by a fine only or by imprisonment of less than six months.

ODPP plans to stage further service weeks throughout 2019.

Media contacts:

Beatrice Hongo, European Union Delegation to Kenya

Julie Marks, UN Office on Drugs and Crime

About PLEAD:

The Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD) is a partnership between the Government of Kenya, European Union and United Nations aimed at improving the efficiency of Kenya's criminal justice system and increasing the use of alternatives to imprisonment. Launched in March 2018, the five-year, EUR 34.15 million (KES 4.3 billion) programme is the European Union's largest in the justice sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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